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The harvest season can bring us unwanted visitors such as harvest mites and fleas that make our dogs and cats itchy. However, with the harvest, come many natural plant chemicals and nutrients that can actually support skin health. Read on to learn more about avenanthramides from oats and omega 3 from flaxseed oil.
There are many different types of grains including wheat, rye, barley, rice, corn (maize) and oats. Although some dogs will do much better on a grain free diet you might be surprised to find out that not all grains are bad for animals with skin problems and allergies to grains are actually quite rare. The proteins that most commonly cause allergies in our pets are beef, soya and dairy (Jeffers 1996).
Not all grains are equal either. Wheat can affect our pets causing adverse signs, but oats are usually a very well tolerated grain for dogs. This is because grains all differ analytically. For example, some have more zinc or iron than others, they all contain different fibre levels and they are usually refined in different ways. When fed to dogs, oats are higher in digestible protein but lower in fat and carbohydrate than most other whole grains and in humans, oats have been shown to have health benefits for a number of conditions, including asthma, diabetes, digestive health and lowering bad cholesterol.
Oats have been recommended for decades as a natural topical remedy to soothe inflamed canine skin and research by Nagata et al (2016) has shown that it can also reduce skin redness when used as an ear cleaner for dogs. Oats can also be eaten and as mentioned above are a grain that most dogs digest very well. They are also a great source of soluble fibre which can support normal digestive function. The beneficial part in oats in relation to skin health are avenanthramides which are naturally occurring plant chemicals. Avenanthramides have been shown to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-itch properties.
Fatty acids are ‘good’ fats that can be beneficial to health. In fact, some of them (the essential ones) cannot be produced by dogs or cats and must be obtained from their food. Without these essential fatty acids (EFAs) our pets would not survive.
There are different types of omega fatty acids but the most well-known are omega 6 EFAs and omega 3 EFAs. There is a lot of misinformation available stating that omega 6 fats are ‘bad’ and omega 3 are ‘good’ but our pets actually require both for optimum health and the debate really should be about the correct ratio of omega 6 to 3.
For dogs there is one omega 6 fatty acid that is classed as essential and that is Linoleic acid. Cats, however, require both linoleic and arachidonic acid in their diet. Linoleic is essential for skin and coat health and arachidonic has important roles within the immune system. Omega 6 fats are involved in the immune response and are classed as pro-inflammatory which is why an extra supplement of omega 6 may not be suitable for pets that have skin inflammation. Good sources of linoleic acid include vegetable oil (nuts, seeds and plants) and animal fats of animals fed on diets rich in linoleic acid. Arachidonic acid can be found in animal fats, evening primrose or borage oil.
Although some dogs will do much better on a grain free diet you might be surprised to find out that not all grains are bad for animals with skin problems and allergies to grains are actually quite rare.
These are not currently classed as ‘essential’ however many researchers believe that the omega 3 Alpha Linoleic acid (ALA) should be categorised in this way. There are three well known types of Omega 3 fatty acids: Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA), Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Flaxseed, pumpkin seeds and walnuts are good source of ALA, whilst algae, krill and fish oil can provide EPA and DHA into the diet. Dogs and cats can convert ALA into EPA which is the omega 3 best known for having anti-inflammatory properties. DHA on the other hand is useful for neurological health and is required for puppies and kittens for brain, nerve and visual development. Studies on puppies have shown that the addition of DHA in their diet can improve their trainability (Kelley et al, 2004).
Another, less well known omega 3 fatty acid is Eicosatetraenoic Acid (ETA) found almost exclusively in green lipped mussels. ETA has been clinically proven to help manage osteoarthritis by reducing inflammation and is more successful at doing so than fish oil (EPA and DHA).
So, for dogs and cats suffering from inflammatory skin problems a supplement containing omega 3 fatty acids can be very useful. However, digestive upset can occur if you go overboard and give too many fatty acid supplements or if the ratio of omega 6 to 3 is too extreme. Researchers also recommend that pets having high intakes of omega 3 from fish oil should also get extra Vitamin E to prevent deficiencies. For more information on supplements for skin conditions we recommend speaking to your vet.
Linda P. Case, Leighann Daristotle, Michael G. Hayek, Melody Foess Raasch (2011) Canine and Feline Nutrition: A Resource for Companion Animal Professionals, 3rd edn., Missouri: Mosby. P152